There is a long-standing rule in the Hunt for the Worst Movie of All Time that childrens’ movies are not up for consideration because, while awful, they are made for children, not for adults, and to watch them or talk about them along the lines that you would use for a movie made for human beings is beside the point. (This doesn’t mean that there aren’t also GREAT childrens’ movies that even adults can enjoy, but the ones that are all butts and poops and fart-pants and crotch-slams do exactly what they are supposed to for the people for whom they are intended to do it, so what’s the point?) With that in mind, it almost seems unfair to talk about Garden State because it is also kind of made for children. If I had to guess who the target audience for this movie is I would say they are 15-24-year-old babies who completed one semester of Freshman College (and are VERY impressed with themselves for having done so), believes Deathcab for Cutie “practically invented music,” are a pretty big deal on their LiveJournal group blog, have had one serious relationship that ended in the third grade, don’t think it’s a problem to wear pajamas to work, believe that “sadness” is “sexy,” and say things like “everyone says I’m crazy, but I don’t know, I’m just me!” when in fact no one says they are crazy because they are the most normal McNormalson on Earth. So, unformed garbage people, basically.
Well, then, garbage babies, let’s talk about your movie!
Garden State tells the “story” (not a story) of Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff, who also wrote and directed this piece of crap) who is a Hollywood actor returns home to New Jersey for the funeral of his mother. He is depressed or something? All I know is that his face looks like this:
Zach Braff is getting headaches so he goes to a doctor and meets Natalie Portman in the waiting room who is listening to The Shins on her Zune and blah blah blah they fall in love. I’m not entirely sure how anyone could be attracted to either of them as Natalie Portman is almost painfully annoying and Zach Braff is insufferable, but actually as a couple they both kind of make sense. I hope they get married and move into a house together and lock the door to the house and burn that house to the ground. Also: Zach Braff stops taking his Prozac or something because this movie was made in 2004 and apparently people were still talking about Prozac as some kind of “numbing” problem? Seriously? Now he is in love with Natalie Portman and they travel around New Jersey meeting all kinds of “hilarious” “characters” and having “adventures,” all the while talking about life and death and love and feelings in such banal terms that you almost cannot believe it and yet it is really happening. Zach Braff is about to leave to go back to Hollywood and he even gets on the airplane, and Natalie Portman goes to cry in a phone booth (remember phone booths?) but then Zach Braff decides not…to…return to Hollywood and his acting career? But to stay in New Jersey with an annoying epileptic girl who still lives with her mother?
THIS. IS. GARDEN STATE!
Where to even begin? How about with the cinematography! Yuck. YUCK. Every single shot of the movie is so over-composed. You know they thought “this looks cool and interesting” but it doesn’t. On top of that, the cinematography is clearly supposed to be neat to make up for how dull and unimaginative everything else about the movie is, so it’s actually failing on two different levels! It is like putting a comedian in a “funny” shirt that isn’t actually funny at all and then having him tell terrible jokes.
Speaking of emotional substitutions, there is the issue of the soundtrack. It’s a perfectly good soundtrack! But that’s the thing: it is JUST a soundtrack. If the overall aesthetic of the movie is a lazy Wes Anderson rip-off (see also Napoleon Dynamite, released the same year) then the soundtrack is pure Cameron Crowe. Here’s the thing: just because you use carefully selected songs to evince a particular mood, if everything else going on is absolute garbage then you are being a lazy fucking liar and I hate you. Which is exactly what this movie does, and worst of all it doesn’t even have the decency to be subtle about it. That whole “Listen to this Shins song, it will change your life” bullshit is exactly that: bullshit. If your girlfriend in real life gives you a mixtape, that is nice. If you find a mixtape on a make believe trash heap, who cares?!
Because Garden State’s characters are all so stock and thin (this one is “sad,” this one is “lazy”) not to mention poorly acted (although I do like Peter Sarsgaard in general, and also hi, Jim Parsons, you looked much healthier before you were famous, I am sorry you got so sick) and because of the movie’s complete lack of emotional depth (see the many faces of Zach Braff, above), and just in case people see through the total scam of its visual choices, the movie attempts to pack itself with “quirky characters and events” because that is…I don’t know. Comedy? Indie? Swag? So, a man in knight’s armor gets cereal from the fridge (no he doesn’t). Too much medicine in the cabinet. Motorcycle with sidecar (sure). Diploma on the ceiling (NOPE). Natalie Portman’s foreign exchange student “brother” (eek). Flaming arrows for no fucking reason whatsoever. The screaming thing. That goddamn shirt.
When they go to the quarry (right before the screaming nonsense happens) this GROWN MAN spouts some open mic night philosophy about staring into an abyss or some shit (barf) but before he does that he says “You guys probably think it’s pretty weird that my wife and I live in this converted houseboat at the edge of a quarry.” Uh, if that houseboat was real it would be on the cover of fucking architecture magazines. If your movie is going to be quirky, shouldn’t it at least know what quirky even IS?! The thing about iconic movie images is that they stick with you because they have EMOTIONAL RESONANCE and help to TELL A STORY. This is just scribbling on a pair of high school jeans. The whole thing is so high school a/v club senior project it makes me sick. SICK! Also making me sick:
But the real heart of this movie’s awfulness is its blatant, rampant, all-pervasive dishonesty. It is in everything that we have already talked about (cinematography, melodramatic soundtrack, fake quirk) but it’s also deeply embedded in the characters and their behavior and the story itself. Like, the first night that Zach Braff is back in town he goes to a party at a mansion owned by a kid he knew in high school who got rich by inventing “silent velcro” (there is a nonsense dishonest detail right there because WHAT?) and is socially incapacitated and so nervous and shy and confused, right? No. He’s a HOLLYWOOD ACTOR! He can’t handle a stupid house party in his hometown? Give me a break. That isn’t that great of an example, I guess, but here’s the thing: none of them are good examples because everything in the movie is dumb and boring and cliched and lame and A LIE. The only thing less interesting than a 20-something-year-old who doesn’t know what to do with his life (because apparently BEING IN MOVIES ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH?) is a make-believe 20-something-year-old who make-believe doesn’t know what to make-believe do with his make-believe life. Meanwhile, everything that comes out of everyone’s mouth is just utter shit (with the exception of the part when Peter Sarsgaard tells Zach Braff “don’t make fun of me for my hobbies, I don’t make fun of you for being an asshole,” which is the best part of the whole movie). Let’s put it this way: Prozac is NOT what makes Zach Braff’s character dull and unbearable to be around. Everyone is so two-dimensional (he can’t swim! Powerful stuff*) that their interactions are like two shapes passing each other in Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland. And as someone who actually has experience of a strained relationship with his father what the FUCK is going on here?
I know that lots of people like this movie, and for the most part I have a very live-and-let-watch philosophy towards life. We all like what we like, no big deal! But this movie is kind of a dealbreaker. Sorry! If you like this movie, I’m sure you’re probably still a good person (maybe) and not a TOTAL idiot, but I don’t think we can be best friends. At the very least, you will be removed from my MySpace Top 8. 4 sure. This movie is so bad. Here is how bad this movie is: Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown maintains its stranglehold as the front-runner for the Worst Movie of All Time, but Garden State jumps into the #2 spot. CONGRATULATIONS, GARDEN STATE! YOU ARE ALMOST THE MOST AWFUL!